Creating a National Movement to End Father Absence and Connect Fathers to their Children, Heart to Heart
Pre-founding: Early 1990s
By the early 1990s, a growing body of social science research was emerging that showed, a) there were record numbers of children living in father-absent homes in the United States, and b) these children were more likely than their peers in two-parent homes to suffer a number of negative outcomes across every imaginable measure of child well being.
But despite this growing, alarming evidence, the issue of “father absence” was largely “flying under the radar”; very few people and organizations were doing anything about it. For example, public policy was still largely focused on alleviating poverty for mothers and children. Additionally, social service agencies and civic organizations focused on families were almost exclusively set up to serve mothers and children. Finally, much of popular culture was marching on with the message of the “doofus dad” who often did more harm than good to his family.
In the spring of 1993, Don Eberly, a prominent civil society scholar, organized a team of 20 of the nation’s leading social experts to meet in Aspen, Colorado to discuss strategies to build a society-wide movement to reverse father absence. Within a year of that pivotal meeting, National Fatherhood Initiative® (NFI) was formed with Wade Horn as its first president, David Blankenhorn as its first board chairman, a board of directors including leaders such as Dr. Louis Sullivan and George Gallup, and an advisory board made up of luminaries such as James Earl Jones, Willard Scott, and Bill Bennett.
The Early Years: 1994-2001
NFI’s first decade was largely focused on two areas:
- Public Education: Raising awareness in the government, entertainment, and social services sectors that fatherhood was an issue they needed to care about and take action on. For example, in 1997 in partnership with the Ad Council, NFI started the first national Public Service Advertising Campaign focused on fatherhood. Additionally, in that same year, NFI formed the first bi-partisan Congressional Task Force on Responsible Fatherhood.
- Research: Knowing that solid social science research would be critical to “making the case” that fatherhood deserved the attention NFI was focusing on it, NFI began conducting and compiling research on the causes and consequences of father absence. This was exemplified by the creation of Father Facts, the first edition of which was published in 1995, and in its 6th Edition today. Father Facts was a comprehensive compilation of the social science research showing why children need good dads, and why so many children were without them.
Recent History: 2001-2012
While public education was critical to NFI’s beginnings (and remains so today), there was a growing sense that the “next phase” of NFI’s work would be to provide solutions “on the ground” to organizations at the nexus of children and families who were often dealing with the “consequences of father absence” (such as poverty and crime) in their neighborhoods.
Therefore, starting in the late 1990s, and taking off with the naming of Roland C. Warren as president in 2001, National Fatherhood Initiative® began to create a portfolio of high quality fatherhood skill-building materials to ensure that organizations around the country had the resources, knowledge, and training they needed to provide programs to help men be the best dads they could be. During this time, flagship NFI programs such as 24/7 Dad®, InsideOut Dad®, and Doctor Dad® were created, and NFI emerged as the #1 provider of fatherhood resources and the #1 trainer of fatherhood practitioners in the nation.
In 2013, Christopher Brown, who played a leading role in developing most of NFI’s flagship fatherhood programs throughout the 2000s, was named president. Under Chris’ leadership, NFI continues to be focused on providing the very best fatherhood resources and training to community-based, military, and corrections organizations across the country. NFI also continues to be a leading voice for responsible fatherhood, with a new emphasis on using social media and blogging to educate the public about the importance of involved, responsible, and committed fatherhood.